The great Taoist master Chuang Tzu once dreamt that he was a butterfly fluttering here
and there. In the dream he had no awareness of his individuality as a person. He
was only a butterfly. Suddenly, he awoke and found himself laying there, a person
once again. But then he thought to himself, "Was I before a man who dreamt about being a butterfly,
or am I now a butterfly who dreams about being a man?"
People's reactions to this story:
"I can identify with this story. Many times I have awakened from a dream and didn't
know, for a moment, what was real and what was the dream."
"Dreams are weird. Are they trying to tell us something. If so, how are we to know
what they mean?"
"You are who you perceive yourself to be."
"I've sometimes dreamed that I could fly. It's such a wonderful, free feeling. It
seemed so real."
"This Zen master had an out-of-body experience, and now isn't sure about his identity."
"When you're a butterfly, there are no worries. You can flutter around without a care
in the world. Perhaps this monk is wishing there were not so many responsibilities
and barriers in his life."
"I think this Zen master wants some peace and quiet in his life. He wishes he were
a normal person and not a Zen master with so many demands put on him by others."
"I think it's important for us to have dreams, but always remember that reality is
much more important."
"Sounds like this guy conforms to what others think of him and allows them to govern
"In my opinion, this is the kind of question asked by people who are struggling with
their sense of individuality and self esteem."
"Only you know who you are - and sometimes it takes some soul-searching to find that
"We should be content with who we are. If we try to be someone or something else,
we will lose our sense of identity."
"I sometimes wonder whether we really exist as people, or whether we are only dreaming
our lives. And if we are dreaming, when and how will we wake up?"
"It would be strange if our life were really part of someone else's dream. Our lives
might seem long and tedious, but it would pass in the blink of an eye for that dreaming
"Are we really just living out someone else's dream or fantasy? I think that everyone
at one time or another feels this kind of detachment from their lives."
"It's funny how we sometimes have to pinch ourselves to make sure we're really ourselves,
to make sure we really exist. It's just like watching a movie, except in real life
you don't follow a script."
"This reminds me of a philosophy course I once took. We discussed reality and how
we know that we really exist. All I can remember from the course is 'I think therefore
"Is this really reality? Or are we ALL dreaming this?"
"Thinking about this kind of thing for too long can drive you crazy."
"Blah, blah, blah. Philosophical babble..."
"I think this story has to do with being close to nature, and not forgetting that
humans are as much a part of nature as a butterfly. Ultimately, we are all equal
and should treat each other as equals."
"This story reminds me of Kafka's Metamorphosis. What would it be like if I woke up
one morning and found that I had been completed transformed? Could I make a smooth
transition into my new existence, or would I be really screwed up?"
"This story is a wake-up call for all those preoccupied with materialism and the mundane."
"I think that this Zen master is thinking too much. How can a butterfly dream?"
"This person is schizophrenic, and is having trouble distinguishing reality."
"Dumb! How can he not know whether he is a butterfly or not!?"
"Do butterflies really dream like humans, or is this monk just anthropomorphizing?"
"I can't think about this too long, because it will control my mind for the rest of
"It's not important if what I perceive is a dream or if I'm someone elses reality or not. What matters is the principle of doing the right thing with the situations, real or not, I am confronted with."
"Why would a man want to be a butterfly, or a butterfly a man?"
"Reality is one's perception of reality, nothing more."
|| Banishing a Ghost || Knowing Fish || Spider ||
John Suler, Ph.D. © 1997 All rights reserved.